Post-Experiment Evaluation of the Use of Geographic Information in a Public Participatory Process

Article excerpt

Abstract: This paper presents a post-experiment evaluation of a public participatory process that was conducted in a Geneva neighborhood. During the experiment, a set of geographic indicators was used to help residents express their opinions and formulate a diagnosis of the neighborhood. The evaluation is centered on a specific set of considerations that were based on observations regarding others' research using public participation and geographic information systems (PPGIS) in public participatory processes. These considerations, which provide reference points for discussion about the use of geographic information in participatory processes, focus on the following elements: access to information, level of information and decision sharing, the difference between knowledge and values, the choice and design of media and interfaces to communicate information, and the role of information. It was determined that these considerations could both facilitate a discussion of the experiment's benefits and limitations, and enable future improvements. This article demonstrates the importance of fundamental reflection on the use of geographic information in participatory processes.

Introduction

The complexity associated with sustainable development (Ascher 1995; Hales 2000) presents a specific challenge for urban management professionals. Planners are often obliged nowadays to work with a wide variety of criteria that integrate economic, social, and environmental objectives (Healey 1997). At the same time, social demand for participation in the planning process is on the rise, and many traditional planning procedures are at a standstill because of social conflicts (Couclelis and Monmonnier 1995; Soderstrom and Cogato Lanza 2000).

Within this context, public participation has become a key issue in land use planning processes. Participatory approaches, which serve to open up discussion to new stakeholders with a different set of territorial issues, provide opportunities for building the consensus needed to carry out urban projects (Dente et al. 1998).

Several tools and methods have been developed to provide information and encourage public participation in decision-making processes (Howard 1998; Al-Kodmany 1999; Kingston and Carver 2000, Soderstrom and Cogato Lanza 2000; World Bank 1996). These include the use of geographic information systems (GIS), which have--by virtue of their geographic information collection, storage, analysis, and dissemination capabilities--served to introduce new perspectives. Given stakeholders' increasing need for information, applications linking public participation and GIS (PPGIS) are becoming more and more widespread (Craig et al. 2002).

Based on these findings, the Swiss "CITYCOOP" project, a contributor to the European COST-C9 "Processes to reach urban quality" Action, has spearheaded a research study on the use of GIS and "cartographic indicators" (defined as "cartographic representations of specific socio-economic indicators") in participatory processes. In order to bolster reflection and facilitate tool development through the use of actual public participation, the CITYCOOP research team decided to conduct an experiment involving residents in a specific district of Geneva. This experiment has been described in detail in other publications (Nembrini et al. 2005; Joerin et al. 2005). Despite the strong impression of success overall at the conclusion of the trial, we were left wondering how this research could be adequately evaluated: What were the experiment's specific successes and failures? What improvements would be required when conducting other, similar experiments?

Essentially, this paper describes the evaluation process as it was carried out. The first component consists of a review of the literature dealing with PPGIS applications, focussing specifically on the discussion of their respective evaluations. Based on this literature review, we developed our own set of considerations, which are in turn used to evaluate and discuss our application in detail. …